Device Wars

The iPad has sure taken money from peoples pockets in a hurry.  I don’t know about you but I’m starting to find it difficult at times to make sense of all the choices.  School Principals and Teachers often seek my advice on what to buy for students or what to recommend to parents to buy for their kids.  I have to step out of my adult self to try to see device choices through the eyes of a young person.  We adults are biased in our choices to what we know and prefer.  Kids are often more willing to use / try new devices and make them work for their needs.  We need to be sure to acknowledge that they will see things differently then we adults do.

I wrote a post about using iPod Touch devices in classrooms – we have some schools considering class-sets of these to support learning.  Many schools are considering netbooks as the next big thing for students. Their size and price are attractive for sure.  But aren’t they simply a smaller cheaper laptop?  Is this the right device? 

Wired Magazine’s April 2010 edition has an article “Why the new generation of tablet computers changes everything”.  In this article the iPad is described as a post-PC era device where we flick, roll, tap, stretch content on our tablets – no need for a real keyboard.  The iTunes AppStore provides a trusted means to get inexpensive apps for the iPad.  Apple enforces design standards so the iPad’s apps will provide a proven acceptable experience for users.  I agree with the author though that to do real work on a computer, the keyboard is still king – students still need to write and create – these are higher order processes.  I’m not so sure the iPad is a post-PC device, rather I suggest it could fill the gap between a small screen (cellphone, iPod) and a laptop.  It is in addition to, not instead of.  I think it is really a question of “how mobile”.  Small, light, instant on devices are great for consuming content when on the move.  But when you need to do “real” work, a real keyboard is still most effective.

The author continues on and talks about Google’s upcoming Chrome OS and the “wave of Chrome-powered netbooks set for release this fall”.  Cloud computing would seem to be Google’s vision of the future – use their OS on a netbook and store all of your content in the cloud (preferably theirs they would say) and trust us...  I worry about how people, many educators, many IT folks, are so willing to embrace the cloud.  Giving away control of our content, our identity information, and trusting face-less corporations seems a bit irresponsible doesn’t it?  I think we need to slow things down a bit here. We are too trusting, too quick to give up privacy to gain “free” access to tools.  We need to address the ownership, control, privacy, and related security questions.  The cloud “device” needs more thought…

Will Richardson shares a post and video he created of his friend, an educator and NY Times blog author, Warren Buckleitner talking about the value of the iPad for younger children. 

Sure it’s a cool, interesting tool that young children can use and learn with – if I had young children, I’d probably want one for them to use, but is it worth the cost?  What is about tools like this that make us think young kids will need it?  How does it improve their life chances over other forms of play and learning?

In my School District I advocate for families providing personally owned devices (PODs) for their children to bring to school – part of the school supply list.  As the price approaches zero for a POD, this makes good sense.  Every student really needs their own “digital pencil”.  But, what device should kids buy to support their learning?  A laptop, netbook, iPod, iPod Touch, cellphone, iPad?  They can’t afford them all.  Should they have more than one type? The other challenge is the built-in obsolescence driven by the creators of these devices.  What is cool and amazing today, will be seemingly out of date by Christmas and they’ll/we’ll want the new one!  New becomes old so much more quickly these days…

I think school systems and educators need to be more critical about devices.  We should have clear ideas about how devices help students learn or help teachers teach, in ways not possible without the devices, and in ways that really improve learning and teaching, in measureable ways.  Devices should be transformative shouldn’t they?  Increased engagement is certainly a positive factor for kids with devices, but doesn’t the shine wear off quickly? 

What do you think about the new devices?  Which do you recommend for students to use?  For teachers to use?  Peering 5-10 years out, what do you think the next big thing in devices might be, should be?  Do you also worry about cloud computing and the implications of losing control, privacy, etc.?


  1. I think "real" tablet computing is coming and that the iPod touches and iPads are transition devices. From my point of view iPod touches are a good (and affordable) first step into the new way of doing things. The iPad I'm not totally sold on yet, but it's new and will settle into its place.

    The big problem will be people trying to do "the same old thing" with the new devices, which isn't necessarily what they're built for.

    Cloud computing will be a tough one, but if we somehow could have clouds based closer to the school level (district or even provincial) it might not be that bad, just different.

    I'm liking netbooks less and less every day, they have their places but they're not something that should be deployed everywhere.

  2. Hi KC - SD47. I think you've nailed it with "people trying to do 'the same old thing'". I think the key with new technology is to find transformative / new / different things to support learning and work. This will often require working (teaching, learning) differently with different resources, activities, etc.

    What is it specifically that you don't like about netbooks?

  3. My biggest issue with netbooks is that the affordable ones tend to be 'cheap'. Poor battery life, questionable reliability, etc.

    They're getting better all the time, but wide spread adoption of them looks like it could be quite a management headache.

    We have had some success assigning netbooks to identified kids that are just outside SETBC's requirements, but where we've deployed groups of them for general use we have run into more problems than were expected.

  4. Hey Brian,
    You sum it up well here:
    "I’m not so sure the iPad is a post-PC device, rather I suggest it could fill the gap between a small screen (cellphone, iPod) and a laptop. It is in addition to, not instead of."
    It is a game-changer just for coming out. As shown in the video it is excellent for pre-school aged kids, it's also ideal for certain special needs kids. But it is too much of a content consumer rather than content creator to be ideal for school... poor value per price.
    You also made a good point in your comment on my iPads are for iConsumers post:
    "A netbook with touch screen (tablet like) and webcam for < $500 is much better value than an ipad and you can run any software or web 2.0 app you want, most of it for free!"

    As for cloud computing - I think that will move into a 'shared' content system where you can have things on the cloud and stored on your computer too (or on a server). Sort of like "Google Reader Offline"... people will put things on the cloud, but have storable options beyond.

    I already trust Google way too much with my information, and I will end up trusting them even more in the future. I do so with a fairly big base knowledge, I think millions of people will do the same without the background info & you will see cloud computing flourish.

  5. Hey Dave - ya, game-changer... I wonder what innovation will be brought to market for the ipad or a competitive product that will disrupt our view of "computer"... 3D holographic visual manipulative devices :-)

    Cloud is a worry for me. Free --> fee without warning (e.g., Ning) and content not necessarily easily portable. Stuff getting lost and no way to contact a human for help... I just bought the domain via Google/Blogger and the process was slick and smooth until I discovered all my comments prior to the domain change got lost! I researched and found many people in the same boat. No solution, no answers, no one to talk to that can help... Cloud has some downsides, at least today it does.

    Thanks for dropping by and sharing your thinking.

  6. KC - we've had mixed results so far with netbooks as well. I am counting on the next gen being better for sure. More speed, memory will help. We buy DELL and they have a latitude (not cheap consumer) for < $500 with touch screen and fairly rugged. Spec looks pretty good too. Will be getting some soon. I think netbooks, as they mature, will be one of the devices K12 will rely on.


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